Billy came back this morning. Came in through the back door and put a fillet knife between Bobby’s ribs and right through his lung like you kill a pig. He was washing dishes at the sink after breakfast. I found him on the floor. Lorell was sitting at the table the whole time. Her belly was fat cause she thought she was pregnant – nine months along, she said. Wasn’t nothing in there but crazy. She’d more likely birth a litter than a baby, but still, she had it in her head and round here, when it’s in your head, it’s true enough. “It was Billy! It was Billy! That sonofabitch!” but still she sat and just watched it happen. I figured over the problem for a bit. Bobby’s parents were pains in the ass. They kept calling all the time to see how he was doing at our home. So much so that I unplugged the phone. They’d probably be here sooner or later looking for him. Lorell finally rocked her massive body out of her chair and went to the base of the stairs. She was screaming at the top of the landing, but there was no one there.
Joseph was in his room. Boy always had this look on him like he was looking at stars, pondering something. He was young and soft. Years just laying in bed pondering impossible things.
“C’mon, Joe. I need ya.” I helped him out of bed. The others had returned to their rooms. Greg was singing show-tunes. Laquetta’s hair was standing on end like a burst of fireworks and was talking to the ghosts that walk round here. The wallpaper was peeling. I always mean to get to it, but time just slips away in this goddamned heat. Cobwebs, too, swaying in the spirits, but I figure it’s kinda like a place having character all its own.
Joe asked questions no human could answer. “Do you think that if the multi-verse is real that some bad people could actually go to heaven?”
“I reckon, Joe.”
“Do you think anyone knows?”
“Do you think I’m going to Hell?”
I didn’t answer that one. Lorell was on a tear this morning and the old place was filled with the bile and rage of her imagination’s unborn child.
Joe looked at Robert on the floor, blood had gotten sticky on the vinyl and it smelled like a warm meat locker. I thought on it for a moment and wondered if Lorrell had finally birthed that baby and it was the afterbirth that hung in the air.
“Is he okay?”
We each took an arm and pulled him out the door. We took him into the garden that we tried to grow last year. Only got a couple tomatoes and some cabbage. Then we all forgot about it and the forest took it back.
We dragged his body to the furthest corner of the garden and I got two spades from the shed and we dug. I looked out into the trees and saw Billy just standing there at the edge watching us work. His white t-shirt was stained brown and red and he was so thin he looked like a skeleton come to life, wandering through the woods like he was cursed.
We dug into the soft, wet dirt and when I looked up again he was gone.
Joe looked up with his wandering eyes. “Do you think the singularity is near?” he said.
“I reckon it is Joe. I reckon it is.”
That night I tried to call a round-table meeting in the living room. Course it was like herding cats getting all nine of them that was left in the same place. I couldn’t rouse Ciro out of bed but that’s pretty par for the course. So we was left with myself, Joe, Gregory, Laquetta, Jose, Lorrell, Mark and Dante. I tried to open the discussion as best I could, but you only get so far. “We’s got two bodies buried out in that garden now, folks and I sure don’t want to be the third. So we’s got to do something as a group, ya hear?”
“It’s my sauce,” Laquetta said. “It’s my sauce he’s after.” Her eyes were wide as barn doors and her smile white as salt.
“Laquetta, you make some mighty fine spagetti sauce,” I said. “But I don’t think that’s what Billy is after.”
“It’s Satanists. Damn devil worshippers livin’ in the woods. They come out for sacrifices, babies and shit. Billy’s a Satanist. He done told me!” Dante said.
“You say everything is Satanists,” Gregory said. “I don’t understand what it is with him and the Satanists. All the time. Devil this and Devil that.”
“Fuck your mother!”
“Well, it don’t matter whether he’s worshipping devils or not. We got a problem and we can’t just let it go.”
“He’s going to sacrifice my baby!”
“That’s what we’s trying to make sure don’t happen,” I said.
“I hear drums and chantin’ out there at night,” Dante said. “I see a bit o’ firelight out there in them trees.”
“I’s never seen nothing like that before,” I said.
“Dat’s cause you always too drunk at night.”
The others nodded in agreement.
“You s’posed to keep us safe,” Dante said, staring a thousand yards down the road now, getting dangerous. “That’s what we pay for.”
“Y’all don’t pay for nothin’ round here. That’s all government money and there ain’t much of it, either! So get off your damn high horses and let’s figure on how we solve this problem with Billy.”
“We have to call the police,” Greg said. He had his old pecker out of his pants now and was flipping it around as he tended to do. “That’s the only way, it’s true, that’s the only way.”
“Police come here and find out this, y’all are gonna be out on the streets and outta a home or, even worse, locked back up in those hospitals again. Y’all can bet on that.”
“Than we have to kill him, Mike. There ain’t no other way.”
“I can hear that chantin’ and drummin’ in the trees right now,” Dante said. “It a long way off but it gettin’ closer.”
Billy came to us nine months ago – right around when Lorell went into one of her pregnancy spells again. End of August, heat dripping from the willow trees and mossy oaks that lined out dirt road like great beasts and inspired all manner of dreams and visions. He was young – nineteen – and his mother couldn’t handle him no more. He was stalking around the house at night, hiding in walls and closets. She would open a pantry and find a pair of gaunt, bloodied eyes staring out at her from behind sack of potatoes and cans of beans. She could afford no hospital, so she brought him here. He hadn’t been leaving the house or eating, neither, so he was pale and white and bone skinny. To this day, I’ve never seen him eat, as much as I tried, but he must be eating something cause he’s till alive and kicking. He was silent the first three months. His mother said that he could speak but was just choosing not to. About the greatest act of willpower I ever saw. He was like a monk with a vow of silence slipping in and out of his room, unseen, and able to step into some other dimension, like Joe always talks about, and then just be gone into some crack or crevice in space-time.
I run my home with a philosophy; people are who they are and there’s no need to make them like you or what the rest of the world wants them to be. I take people in that society don’t want and can’t handle. I can handle it – with a little help from a bottle. We all have our demons, some are just more plain to see. But if you quash those demons down with all sorts of medications than they just gradually eat you from the inside out. Makes things worse, not better. People in my home do alright. Till now, at least. I’ve had to come to grips with the fact that some demons must be put down; that some cannot be allowed to roam free.
I took Billy’s first kill in stride. We all did. Some, like Mark and Laquetta, were just completely unawares anyway. But I found Shalaya with her throat cut in her room. The blood stank bad from the heat of it all. I did a quick inventory of our people. Billy was gone, but there were tracks of blood from his sneakers leading out of her room and out the back door. We was lucky that it was Shalaya. Nobody wanted her. Nobody missed her. Her family hadn’t asked about her in two years, so I took Joe and we pulled her out into the garden and buried her quietly and without ceremony. Ciro actually got out of bed and said a prayer over her in his native language – Italian, I think – so it did take on an air of religiosity. Also got Dante started up on the devil worshippers. I’m not saying there ain’t any devil worshippers in this world, or even in these woods – people out here in the sticks, away from all civilization and law get into some strange things – but they sure ain’t who killed Shalaya.
After that, I thought Billy might be gone but then we started noticing things missing from around the house. It can be kinda hard to determine is something is actually missing in a house full of people that see things and hear things that ain’t there, but I was pretty confident that he was coming in at night and making off with some stuff. Dante said he saw fires in the woods at night. That may be true. It’s also true that I was usually too drunk and passed out to notice something like that, but like I said, we all have our demons and it can be hard to keep your head on straight in a house like this.
But now with Bobby gone, we might be in a bit of trouble. His family wanted weekly updates as to how he’s doing and the like. As if he were somehow going to change or be cured. I kept telling them that bringing him to this house was like letting a wild animal roam free – it’s just embracing its god-given nature and truly the best thing for him. But still they persisted…
Now we had a problem and I was beginning to think Greg was right. Not that I wanted it to come to that, but we’re being left with little choice.
A knock at the door around here is a strange thing. So strange, in fact, that it could be nothing less than official. Of course, the voice made it more than official. “Mike! Open up, it’s Sheriff Winslow, Macon County Police Department. Need to talk to you!” It was early morning and my head was pounding and mouth dry as a bag of corn chips. I opened the door to the bright, deadly light of day, cicadas buzzing in the long grass. I’m not a big man, but Winslow is and he likes to belly up to people, make them feel small and insignificant and cowardly and when I opened up the door, there he was, belly to the door, sunglasses glinting in the sun, staring down at me like he was somehow the better man.
“What can I do for ya?” I said. But I knew why he was here.
He stayed on the front stoop but looked around inside the house, casing the place. Laquetta walked by in nothing but a t-shirt and smiled bright and girly at him, “Hi, Officer Winslow.” She was flirting. She got that way at times.
“Got a call from Bobby McCray’s parents. Said they haven’t heard from him – or you – in a long time and they been trying to call but the phone is shut off.”
“Those people consider a week a long time. Besides, what makes them think Bobby wants to talk to them anyhow? He wasn’t too keen on them bringing him here in the first place.”
“I still need to see him, Mike. Get him up, bring him down so I can talk with him.”
“No can do, Sheriff,” I said. “He run off a few days ago. I have no idea where he went.”
“Run off? And you didn’t tell nobody?”
“I can’t keep anyone here against their will, you know that.”
“You didn’t think to tell his folks?”
“Phone’s been shut off. My pockets are empty and the county ain’t exactly forthcoming with funds. We’re running on bare bones here. Can’t afford the phone right now.”
“What kind of nut-house are you running here, anyway? Someone runs off and you don’t tell nobody.”
“Whose to tell, Sheriff? You? When’s the last time you were out here anyway. I know these people give you the creeps. Don’t nobody want anything to do with us here, so who exactly am I supposed to tell?”
“What am I supposed to tell Bobby’s parents? Any idea where he went? I can’t believe I have to be doing this, ya know.”
I leaned against the doorframe, “I can’t say for sure. He had mentioned headin’ off for home a couple times. They wait long enough, they might have him show up on the doorstep.”
“How long ago did he take off?”
“Bout’ three days ago. I went up to his room to check on him, but there was no one there.”
I laid off the liquor that night and sure enough, Darnell wasn’t seeing things; just between the columns of black trees and dripping moss, I could make out the flicker of firelight in the darkness. I closed my eyes and listened as close as possible but still no drums, no devil worshippers frolicking in the undergrowth. Just the firelight and silence. I could pick up the smell of burning oak on the high wind. The moon was just an icy sliver. He was out there nearby. I probably wouldn’t be long before I was mopping up another body or put out of my misery. Greg was right. This was going to have to end.
The next morning I had Joe and Greg push the pickup while I popped the clutch and fired it up. I drove the eight miles into town and traded the truck at Dick’s Pawn for an old .38 Derringer and had about fifty bucks leftover. People in town knew me, or, at least, knew of me and how I earned my keep. “How’s life out at the nut-house there, Mike?”
I had stopped in to Blazin’ Bill’s for a beer because the stress was causing me a headache like nothing I ever had before. Of course, I was accosted by so many prying eyes and ears that somehow found a sick fascination with what I do.
“Ain’t a nut-house,” I said. “It’s a home.”
“A home for nuts!” A couple of the good ole boys laughed in the background.
“Wasn’t so funny when your sister was saddled up there.” More laughs and the good ole boy, Tom Mason, didn’t appreciate my lack of professional discretion.
“Yup,” I said. “We just could not get her to stop fuckin’ all those dogs. Welp, some people just can’t be helped I suppose.”
Tom was a big boy. His sister was close to retarded and had a love of animals that occasionally made its way into the realm of Biblical abomination. I had a feeling that Tom was compensating for this insecurity, but still, when he found me in the alley as I was trying to make my way home I didn’t hesitate from pulling out that newly bought Derringer and making him think twice. This is why I rarely went into town. I walked the eight miles back to the home. When I got there Greg was all lumped up and bleeding because he had pulled his pecker out around Dante, who only had a limited tolerance for that kind of thing. I found him some frozen peas to put on his swollen face and gave Dante a talking to. Then I told him, “I want you to come with me tonight. We’re gonna go find Billy and put an end to all this.”
“What about the others?”
“Ain’t no others as far as I can tell,” I said.
“Oh, they are out there. They’re out there alright. Sure as shit.”
We waited till it was midnight and the woods were black as coal except for that tiny firelight at the edge of the world. I took the Derringer and cocked the hammer back and together me and Dante made our way through the underbrush keeping as quiet as we could. Dante was the only one I could take for something like this; he was street raised, mother was a crack-head and schizophrenic so he never really had a chance to integrate into the real world. But his violent outbursts made it so he had plenty of experience handling himself in bad situations. If it wasn’t for him constantly raving about satanists and the Illuminati, he’d be doing seven years at Edgefield.
We had to keep low and quiet because Billy was a ghost and paranoid as hell so he kept an ear out and moved like a soft breeze. The trees seemed to rise up on all sides like dark walls of some maze and we were the mice trying to make our way to the end. It occurred to me right then and there that we were all just some kind of experiment; a field test conducted by a sick scientist that watched us with growing disdain and recording the errors in our genetics, the pieces of our brains that were missing and caused us to turn left when we should have turned right. The Overseer was just letting us run out our useless, corrupted DNA until he was satisfied with our rot and then feed us to the waiting serpent.
Then it occurred to me that maybe I was doing the same thing with Greg and Dante and Joe and all the rest. Maybe I was the mad scientist. A sudden attack of nausea overwhelmed me and I almost stopped to wretch in the darkness.
Dante had found a good piece of wood that he was holding in his hand like a bat and he pulled me out of my delirium and on toward Billy and the firelight. We slowed our pace as we neared the camp and kept dead silent. In that silence we could hear Billy talking – more like chanting some old dark dirge that he must have imagined deep in his brain, shattered like a vase.
And, normally, I would have chalked it up to the fact that he was crazy as a loon but there was something else there, at the edge of the firelight. I could see him there in nothing but his jeans and dirty white t-shirt standing in front of the fire, mumbling his incantation into the night, but there was something… something… other that was standing opposite him in the shadowy reaches of the firelight mingling with the trees. Dante saw them, too. I know this because he seized up and just stared for a while, disbelieving that his delusions were actual reality. It was if he, himself, felt duped by his own brain. I can’t say that I didn’t feel the same.
We both tried to move toward the light, toward the point that I could actually reach out and put Billy down but we were transfixed, our eyes unable to leave the scene that spread out before us; they were like pools of shimmering blackness – darker than anything I’d ever seen in my life, like fresh, steaming tar come to life and molded into human form. They weren’t human but, for the life of me, I couldn’t say what they were. It was as if the darkness of the world had come alive gathered round Billy’s fire.
Dante took a step and a tree branch snapped with the sound of breaking bone. Everything went suddenly still. Billy stopped his chant and slowly turned around to look directly as us like some puppeteer was pulling his strings. The things – the others – descended backwards into the darkness, away from the fire. Poor Billy looked like nothing but chicken skin stretched over sticks of bone. His face had two hollowed out pools of blackness. He had torn out his own eyes.
He stared toward us but saw nothing. He inhaled deeply through his nostrils. He said, “Everything is true,” and then I shot him right through the head. His body convulsed on the ground and I put the second round of .38 into his skull and that stopped him dead cold.
Dante was swinging his piece of wood like Hank Aaron, whiffing it through the darkness, screaming at the night. But there was no one there.
The house seemed to groan in morning heat and throughout the halls a strange spirit had descended. My people were quiet and strange airs moved the cobwebs through the halls. Dante hadn’t left his room since the night before, and so I took Joe and our two spade shovels and, together, we dragged Billy’s corpse back to the garden and began our new ritual, digging yet another grave. Billy was surprisingly light. Couldn’t have been more than a hundred pounds.
“What happened to his eyes?” Joe said.
“Don’t know for sure,” I told him.
We dug through the southern loam throughout the morning. I was pouring whiskey down my throat just trying to get rid of that image from last night, of those things that surrounded Billy’s fire and the soft chant that he had been mumbling in his final moments.
“Hey Mike,” Joe said. “What if everything we ever experienced wasn’t real? That it was really nothing at all?”
“Well, I suppose that would be your experience then,” I said.
“Oh. I guess that makes sense,” he said.
We had our bodies, our skeletons in the garden packed down and a part of the earth now like planting strange unknown seeds and waiting to see what they would yield.
Lorell said that her baby was born last night. She said she gave birth in the middle of the night and that the child had been taken. Of course, we all knew that wasn’t true, but then Billy’s words were still haunting my mind. Lorell was beside herself with grief and stayed in her room, crying and saying, “They did it again. They took my baby. They did it again.”
Later in the afternoon there was a knock at the door that broke the silence and echoed throughout the labyrinth of halls and rooms and sounded strong enough to crack the wet wood frame of the door.
I opened the door but there was no one there.
Marc E. Fitch is the author of Paranormal Nation: Why America Needs Ghosts, UFOs, and Bigfoot (Praeger) and the novels Old Boone Blood and Paradise Burns, which is forth-coming from Damnation/Eternal Press. His fiction has appeared in such publications as ThugLit, The Big Click, eHorror, Horror Society, and Massacre. He recently won the Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship for his upcoming work, Shmexperts: How Ideology and Power Politics are Disguised as Science. His nonfiction has appeared in the Federalist, World Net Daily, American Thinker and The Skeptical Inquirer. He currently lives in Harwinton, CT with his wife and four children and works in the field of mental health.